'Battlestar Galactica' Takes Over United Nations ... Really

The cast of TV's 'Battlestar Galactica' on the Syfy Channel.
The cast of TV's 'Battlestar Galactica' on the Syfy Channel. (Image credit: Syfy Channel)

NEW YORK — A critically-hailed show such as "BattlestarGalactica" can deftly blur the line between fiction and reality. That wason full display last night at the United Nations, where "Battlestar"producers and cast joined UN officials for a somewhat surreal discussion on real-worldissues such as human rights and questions of justice.

"Battlestar" representatives included executiveproducers Ron Moore and David Eick,as well as actors Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell. They sat at the headof a chamber for the UN Economic and Social Council, which some savvy UNpolitical officers had transformed into the real-life equivalent of the Quorumin "Battlestar." Attendees filled representative seats labeled byplacards with the names of the 12 Colonies on the show, such as"Caprica," "Canceron" and "Aerilon."

The event, titled "Battlestar Galactica: ARetrospective," seemed well-timed with Battlestar's two-hour finale airingthis Friday. But most of the evening focused on questions about the show's pastepisodes involving real-life intersections, rather than potential spoilersabout the final fates of humans and Cylons.

Whoopi Goldberg acted as moderator, with herself-professed love for "Battlestar" perhaps holding more weight forthe audience than her roles as UN ambassador, Oscar-winning actress and co-hostof "The View." She kept the session moving along as video clips fromthe show introduced themes that included "human rights,""children and armed conflict," "terrorism" and"reconciliation and dialogue among civilizations and faiths."

Four UN officials discussed the internationalorganization's work relating to the themes after each video presentation.

"Water boarding and torture! Madam President, shameon you," said Craig Mokhiber, deputy director for New York's Office of theHigh Commissioner for Human Rights, as he joked around with McDonnell, whoplays President Laura Roslin on the show.

Some of the thematic parallels seemed a bitforced, but the show's scenes about human rights and terrorism fit particularlywell. UN officials continually mentioned eerie echoes of the real world in"Battlestar."

"I've heard these words from people before, and theyweren't actors," said Robert Orr, a UN assistant secretary-general for policyplanning. He singled out the "Battlestar" story arc on New Caprica thatdeals with issues of insurgency and terrorism, and thanked Moore and Eick forcreating a show which gave people cause to think about such issues.

Moore said that he continually tried to use "Battlestar"to flip familiar situations and put the audience in uncomfortable spots — suchas creating situations where humans resorted to suicide bombings and tortureagainst the Cylons, the supposed "villains" at the start of the showwho gradually become more sympathetic.

"We challenge the audience in a lot of ways,"Moore said, adding that the show has had viewers "question heroes"and "root for the villains."

"Even if you end up believing at the end the exactsame thing you thought at the beginning, at least you thought about it,"Moore added.

McDonnell fielded a question from a high school studentabout her character's penchant for executing people by throwing them out theairlock. She noted that it was a "haunting experience" to staycommitted to the character of President Roslin at those times, but added thatRoslin and other characters often acted out of sense of fear.

"People who are taking these actions that we findunacceptable are sometimes in the positions where they don't see the solution,"McDonnell said.

Perhaps the evening's highlight came when Olmos went on apartial tangent about the use of the word "race," and forcefully arguedthat the only race which counted was the "human race." He drewincreasingly louder clapping and cheers as he proceeded to channel thecharismatic leadership of his Battlestar character, Admiral WilliamAdama.

"And then I end up well prepared as the admiral of BattlestarGalactica to say to all of you, there but one race, and that is it! So say weall!" Olmos said, invoking a common "Battlestar" chant used onthe show.

"So say we all!" the crowd roared back,responding twice more as Adama's voice rose to a shout. Wild applause filledthe chamber, and for a moment it wasn't hard to imagine being on the hangardeck of Galactica.

"I love that you did that here at the UN,"Goldberg said after everyone had calmed down.

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Contributing Writer

Jeremy Hsu is science writer based in New York City whose work has appeared in Scientific American, Discovery Magazine, Backchannel, Wired.com and IEEE Spectrum, among others. He joined the Space.com and Live Science teams in 2010 as a Senior Writer and is currently the Editor-in-Chief of Indicate Media.  Jeremy studied history and sociology of science at the University of Pennsylvania, and earned a master's degree in journalism from the NYU Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. You can find Jeremy's latest project on Twitter